Ariany tog fra Costa Rica til Danmark i januar 2020 for at starte et års udvekslingsophold. Men så brød corona ud, og halvanden måned senere blev hun til sin store ærgrelse sendt hjem igen. Hun var dog fast besluttet på at vende tilbage til Danmark – og det gjorde hun, så snart det var muligt. AFS Costa Rica har interviewet hende om, hvorfor hun er så glad for Danmark, og hvad hun fik ud af sit ophold.

Ariany traveled to Denmark in January 2020. A month and a half into her stay, she was advised by AFS that she would have to return because of the cancellation of programs due to the pandemic. However, two weeks passed in the trance of having to leave at any time. She came back to Costa Rica, stayed four months until flights were opened again and stayed four more months. An exchange experience divided in two parts.

“I chose Denmark, the only Costa Rican who chose Denmark, because from day one, having all the options, Denmark is a country that preserves more genuinely its own culture.

The first time I went on my exchange, a month and three weeks after arriving, they sent us the emails about returning, which is understandable, because of the spread of Covid19 and its implications. The pandemic was something that got out of hand. But it was something you never expected. I was never ready to come back after two months. I found it hard to understand, it was a very confusing time, of unexplainable emotions, I felt sad, and upset. I didn’t understand why it was happening to me. I was in the best moment of my experience, I was enjoying it very much, after the initial adjustments.

I am very grateful for the patience that the AFS people had with me. At that time everything was very confusing, I could not think calmly. I remember the last two weeks my family and I were not separated at all. Every day we would go out and do things. Ula, my host mother said we had to make the most of every minute. I shared a lot those two weeks, everyone in my Danish family felt the same pain, but it felt good to be accompanied emotionally at that time.

Arianny's classmates in the Danish school.
Ariany’s classmates in the Danish school.

My host school placed me in one of the best classes in the school, and every week I met with a teacher counselor, who told me that I was very lucky to be placed in that class. My classmates have their picture taken at the beginning and end of the school year, and they sent me one of those pictures signed by all of them. I made a very good relationship with them in a short time.

Upon my return to Costa Rica, it was more difficult to adapt to my own country in the midst of those uncertain circumstances than to Denmark. It was difficult for people to understand me in Costa Rica, but fortunately I made friends with the other AFSers who were returned, there were about 20 of us and we supported each other.

People here did not realize how much I became attached to Denmark, its people, my school and how hard it was for me to accept that I had returned in such a short time. Someone who has not done an exchange cannot understand how I felt. My family and friends did not understand my frustration. I lived a situation of grief, of loss.

I was in Costa Rica for four months, Walter, my dad is the person I talked to the most about this situation and he supported me to come back. He said he was going to do everything he could to get me back. My Tico father was my great support and my Danish family kept in touch almost daily and they always treated me like another daughter, they always gave me a lot of love, my Tico father and my Danish family supported me emotionally.

What helped me to get through that ugly moment was the communication with my family, because even if I did not come back, I had already established a good relationship and communication. During this time my Tico grandfather died and my two families gave me emotional support, which helped me to overcome this second bereavement.

The pandemic was still going on and the vaccine was not yet available, which made it very likely that I would not be able to return. But this time served to reflect and understand how important it is to take advantage of every minute of an exchange and to learn. I am grateful for this time to become aware of the good things that the exchange gave me: it opened my mind, made me more understanding, gave me tools to adapt to a new culture. Coming back and spending some time there made me appreciate the exchange much more and increased the immense love I feel for Denmark.

Arianny together with her host family, Bregnø.
Ariany together with her host family, Bregnø.

The love of my two families, the good relationship with the host school and my persistence made me come back for 5 months of this experience. Since I was on the plane going back the second time, I committed myself not to waste a single minute of my second stay.

These five months were beautiful, every day I learned something, I was eager to ask, to learn, I wanted to live intensely every second. Culture is the main thing, every day of my two stays I learned about the culture, everything I asked, I spent reading.

During the first time I had the chance to go to school in person. I took the Spanish class and all the time I was asked questions about my country and about Latin America. I always emphasized that the customs were not better or worse here, but different.

I had a deep love for Denmark, it’s an incredible country, it’s beautiful. I lived in Ribe, the oldest city in Scandinavia, thirty minutes from the German border. My school is the oldest in Denmark, everything was full of history.

I would get out of school and what I enjoyed most was going to my Danish grandparents’ house and they would talk to me about history. After dinner, we would sit down with a dictionary. My mom would buy me books for little kids, the kind they read to you before bedtime, and we would sit with the book and the dictionary and learn new words.

Skills I didn’t know I knew I developed in my exchange. For example, I thought I was bad at crafts, but my mom encouraged me to try and I was able to do crafts. I stepped out of my comfort zone and discovered that there is so much in me that I hadn’t discovered.

My vision for the future: My exchange allowed me to develop a great capacity to understand a new environment, to put myself in the shoes of new people and culture, it made me more sensitive and understanding. I decided to study medicine. I believe that today my biggest goal is to finish my professional career and explore the possibility of returning to specialize in Denmark, and perhaps work there. I am a confident woman, clear about what I want.

When I left school at the age of 17, I didn’t feel ready to enter university and decide what I wanted for the rest of my life. I was interested in cultural exchange, because you learn a language in any institute, AFS is more than learning a language. When I came back from my exchange, I was already sure of what I wanted. Studying medicine was a very good decision, very thoughtful, very conscious.

There is a lot of time for reflection during the exchange, which makes one grow and appreciate all things, no matter how small.

Arianny and her host sister.
Ariany and her host sister.

What would you tell other kids who think to go on a program?

To the young people who want to participate I tell them that while making the decision, sometimes you have doubts, which is normal, but I tell them to give yourself the opportunity, once you are living it, I tell them, I wish all the people in this world could live an exchange to any other country, because it leaves fruits for life, it transcends the time that lasts to be outside. No matter how old you are, it is never too late to open yourself to another culture. Everyone should do it.

If I could define my exchange in one sentence I would say: “an exchange is more than a stay in a host country, it transcends time, it leaves fruits for life”.

Words I associate with AFS: culture, new experiences, learning, personal growth, broader world view, empathy.

My favorite word in Danish is “hygge” which means “warmth, cossy”, there is no translation. It implies that the moments that are shared involve us totally. Life is structured, but the moments of sharing we concentrate on being here and now, without interruptions from the cell phone, or anything else.

The word family means sharing, it is love. My family made me feel loved from day one.”